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Canberra Today 24°/28° | Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Anonymous transport argument is ‘idiotic tosh’

There was a slew of letters this week dismantling the arguments in an earlier opinion piece suggesting that older Canberrans were a stubborn generation that won’t let go of the car.

PURPORTEDLY written by a “trained planning professional”, the article “Stubborn generation that won’t let go of the car” (CN October 7) makes some sense in terms of “car-centric planning of the ’60s and ’70s”, but otherwise is idiotic tosh. 

Which is probably why he wanted to remain anonymous. He seemed to be suggesting that spending an amount equivalent to the 10 year cost of road trauma in the ACT on Light Rail Stage 2 would miraculously get everyone out of their cars and eliminate the road toll! 

How much better to make that investment in greatly enhancing public transport right across the metropolitan area, to increase its attractiveness, convenience and speed over private cars?

I’d strongly suggest he finds another profession or redoes Planning 101, and pays attention this time. Had he read the “Business Case for Light Rail Stage 2A”, he would know there is a table in it that reveals no significant reduction in the amount of “car kilometres” travelled by 2046 due to Light Rail Stage 2. 

It is true that us retired public servants have more time to read up on and think about this sort of stuff than younger people still in the workforce. Some of us also have the time to contribute to our local resident groups, with benefits to the whole community.

His opening “Almost every argument I hear against investment in mass transit reeks of ignorance and general hostility to change” in itself reeks of his own ignorance and hostility. 

I have myself become convinced that Light Rail Stage 2 makes no sense economically, environmentally or socially through extensive reading on the subject. I am a great supporter of investment in mass transit, just not light rail now with much better alternatives becoming available.

As a personal disclaimer, I am a retired senior executive of ACTPLA and maintain an active interest in planning matters. I live in an apartment in the inner south, I use public transport quite often (or did pre-covid) and drive an electric car. I also happen to value the beautiful, established streetscapes of the inner south and do not wish to see them trashed through mindless “urban renewal” when there are plenty of other and more appropriate opportunities for increasing densities.

Richard Johnston, Kingston

Stop defending the indefensible

CLEARLY, nothing beats the versatility and affordability of electric buses for Canberra’s public transport network as they can use existing bridges and other infrastructure without causing any damage to the environment.

However, the construction of light rail needs a huge amount of funds for cement, rails and overhead electrical wiring etcetera, is very disruptive to traffic, environmentally destructive and will only benefit commuters who live within walking distance to it.

The Gungahlin link has proven to be an exceptionally costly idealistic folly, of no use whatsoever to those who live in that area’s outlying suburbs or in Hall, Belconnen, Watson or Hackett.

It has also proven to be a time-wasting nuisance for those who live in Giralang and Kaleen as they have to get off the bus at Dickson and catch the tram to Civic.

As for the poor souls who live between Dickson and Civic, it was simply tough luck for them in peak hour during pre-COVID-19 times as the trams were usually full and they had to walk to Civic and then catch a bus to Russell Hill, the Parliamentary Triangle and Woden etcetera as all of the bus routes on Northbourne Avenue were cancelled after light rail commenced operating. 

If light rail is extended to Woden it will be of no use to those who need to travel to/from the airport, the railway station in Kingston, Canberra Hospital or anywhere in the Fyshwick, Pialligo, Narrabundah, Garran, Weston Creek, Denman Prospect and Tuggeranong Valley areas.

I’ve heard from reliable sources that the huge increases in the ACT’s rates, levies and taxes each and every year are compelling many investors to sell their rental properties and invest elsewhere, thereby worsening the housing crisis for those who can’t afford Canberra’s high rents or buy their own home.

I would like to make the following plea on behalf of Canberra’s over-taxed ratepayers: please, Minister Chris Steel and other light-rail proponents, stop attempting to defend the indefensible! (“The stubborn generation that won’t let go of the car” by “David Jones”, CN October 7).

If you announce that, as a result of recent advances in technology and the huge, adverse impact of COVID-19 on the Budget, the ACT government has decided to introduce a fleet of electric buses instead of extending light rail to Woden, Canberra’s ratepayers will praise you for your common sense and, perhaps, your chances of being voted for at the next election might improve.

Peter Sherman, Aranda 

Gold-medal ignorance of planning

“DAVID Jones” (“The stubborn generation that won’t let go of the car”, CN October 7) displays gold-medal ignorance of Canberra’s housing and transport planning.

He comments favourably on Griffin’s plan of streetcars and terrace dwellings along major roads. While the strategy had merit, it failed to meet the population’s overwhelming preferences for low-density dwellings and the automobile. 

Planners following Griffin had to work within these preferences, dominant until about 1990. Until then there was limited demand for higher-density housing even in areas of high accessibility including Civic and the town centres. 

The National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) attempted to encourage higher density by the identification of Kingston as a redevelopment area and the development of Swinger Hill as a demonstration medium-density estate. 

The Commission in its enthusiasm for higher-density housing occasionally got ahead of the market and had to convert sites identified for higher density to lower-density housing.

To cope with the housing-affordability crisis, “Mr Jones” argues correctly for the building of higher density near mass-transit routes. However, housing strategies also need to respect preferences and the quality and design of housing has to be adequate to address the needs of occupants including families with children. 

Unfortunately, this is often not the case. The constraining of detached housing supply in the territory has contributed to house price increases and increased car-dependent development in the region.

He criticises “CityNews” columnist Paul Costigan for suggesting spending on light rail takes away hospital beds. Opposition to light rail is not based on “a general hostility to change” but a reaction to poor policy. He does not acknowledge the opportunity cost of the prioritisation of light rail over other projects. The development of light rail would be acceptable if it had been shown to be a good use of public funds. The opposite is true and it is likely spending on bus rapid transport, improving the frequency and coverage of the bus network and accelerated electrification of the bus fleet would be more cost effective and do more to reduce car use. He also suggests “we need to build mass transit all over this city”, an unachievable aim if based on the extremely costly light rail. Busways have greater scope to achieve this objective.

Car use can be reduced through improved public transport, the direction of employment to locations well served by public transport, reduced parking supply and increased charges but the convenience, flexibility and time savings the car provides means it will remain a key component of any transport strategy.

The increased demand for higher density housing in areas of high accessibility since 1990 demonstrates preferences have changed, a consequence of changing demographics, the inability to direct Commonwealth employment and increased awareness of the environmental and lifestyle benefits provided by higher-density housing.

“David Jones'” ageist, inaccurate and ill-informed rant does little to guide the future development of our city. I find it hard to believe he has a planning qualification.

Mike Quirk, retired ACT strategic planner (40 years) and medium-density resident, Garran

Busways far more adaptable for the future 

“DAVID Jones” has identified the true costs of the motor car, but failed to offer any convincing alternative (“The stubborn generation that won’t let go of the car”, CN October 7). 

“Mass transit all over this city” is a pipe dream, not a realistic plan for our distributed towns. Like most planners, he has failed to foresee the impact of technology, especially the evolution of the car.

It was the car that enabled people around the world to escape from the wretched inner cities of the mid 20th century for green fields and their own space. The NCDC merely responded to this preference, turning Burley Griffin’s grand design into the bush capital that was the envy of the world.

The noted planner Paul Mees advocated a “network planning” approach in which similar service standards are applied across an entire city to create an integrated public transport network that mimics the “go anywhere, anytime” convenience of the car. 

While Jones may have correctly identified the real costs of the car, as Mees realised, people will only give it up for something equally convenient. There has never been a realistic plan addressing Mees’ criteria.

The Whitlam era generated a successful spoke-and-hub bus network in Canberra based on frequent direct services from each suburb to its town centre and very frequent express buses between the town-centre hubs. This design was never going to scale to the large urban area and more complex network that is Canberra today.

So, lacking any in-house engineering expertise or vision, advised by a hodgepodge of consultants, persuaded by ideologues who spent too many holidays in European cities, constrained by deals to keep the Labor government in power, and pressured by developers, this unique city is being subject to conventional densification along a light-rail line when blind Freddy can see that busways are far more cost effective and they are adaptable to future technology.

Moreover, the light rail is not rapid transit, and the long time frame for development of the complete network ensures that it will be bypassed by other technology and never completed. But there are more pressing problems and opportunities for the ACT government.

High-rise corridors are the antithesis of the home aspirations of people. Opportunities to flee over the border will become more common and Canberra could be faced with a financial crisis similar to Washington DC a few decades ago.

A significant long-term effect of the covid pandemic will stem from the work-from-home experience that has happened because of internet technology. People who live and work on the corridor are likely to be employed in an industry in which they will work from home in the future, so they will put less demand on the light-rail services. This decentralisation dynamic threatens the viability of the Northbourne Avenue precinct.

The federally-funded trackless tram business case study now being conducted in Perth is highly likely to deliver a positive appraisal. Unlike light rail, this type of electric technology offers a realistic option to quickly deploy new mass transit services. 

David Jones is only correct in that the urban planning that Canberra needs in today’s circumstances is of a highly distributed nature, something consistent with the bush capital image that is now fast disappearing.

John L Smith, Farrer 

This guy must live in a bubble!

FROM the article “The stubborn generation that won’t let go of the car” (CN October 7), I feel that its author “David Jones” hates cars and wants to live in a small utopian bubble where medium to high-density living and mass transport is the norm with all its associated mental and health risks.

Facing reality is a lot harder. If “Mr Jones” wants to live in such a place, I advise him to go and experience life in places like Hong Kong and if he likes it so much, stay there.

To suggest that it doesn’t matter about the cost of the light-rail project because it equates to the cost of 10 years worth of car crashes is disingenuous. The light-rail project fails because it doesn’t offer a return on investment capital. It doesn’t and can’t provide mass transport to most of Canberra due to terrain and design of suburbs. 

The present bus system also doesn’t provide convenient transportation to many Canberrans. It is simpler, easier and more efficient to use your car to achieve your goals rather than waste the whole day, let alone find a car park or walk one or two kilometres to a bus stop. 

To lump environmental damage, childhood asthma from pollution, cardiovascular problems from environmental noise pollution all factors in support of the light rail, one wonders where this “Mr Jones” lives, certainly not in Canberra. 

“Mr Jones” is avoiding the reality of Canberra today where our health system, as well as other areas, are undermanned and under-staffed and public resources would be better utilised addressing those needs before “Mr Jones’” medium to high-density utopia redesign of Canberra.

Robert Kerby, via email

An inefficient form of public transport

IT’S easy to see why the article “The stubborn generation that won’t let go of the car” (CN October 7) was submitted under a pseudonym. 

It suggests that opposition to Tram 2A is based on opposition to public transport, while the same edition contains three thoughtful letters that all castigate Tram 2A not because it’s public transport, but because it’s a very inefficient way of providing public transport.

In my case, I am very happy to use public transport from Woden to Civic if my destination is within walking distance of the interchange, or served by a “Civic Circle” bus. 

I do not see that travelling Woden-Civic by tram, more slowly and with fewer seats and at vastly more community cost is better than the existing bus service, especially if battery-powered buses or rubber-tyred trains were used.

Perhaps “David Jones” is a childless apartment dweller, not conscious that some people need to collect offspring from childcare after work. 

I suspect that “David” is a government member or ACT public servant charged with getting tram 2A done regardless of cost-effectiveness. 

I would be more impressed if some non-disguised ACT government member, especially from the Greens or indeed anyone other than the responsible Minister, Chris Steel, came out with a rational justification for Stage 2A.

Michael Duffy, Curtin

What’s wrong with electric buses?

IF the author of “The stubborn generation that won’t let go of the car” (CN October 7) will not provide his/her name then how can we be expected to trust them? 

The first sentence says “almost every argument I hear against investing in mass transit reeks of ignorance and general hostility to change”. My friends and I are neither ignorant nor reluctant to change but could not see the point in the tram. 

Before light rail went ahead, my husband and I were invited to participate in a survey. There were about 20 people in attendance of varying ages, only one was in favour of the light rail going ahead. 

For mass transport the need for a tram system was not the only option. If they wanted cars off the road regarding pollution, what was wrong with electric buses?

There are issues here the writer appears to be ignorant of. Most people travelling to the city or Woden are workers. Because they are working, they sometimes need to go out at lunchtime or after work in regard to errands, picking up children after school (or if a child is sick), going to classes or the gym. For this they need their car. This is not ignorance or hostility to change, it is practicality and needs.

Having a light rail system is not flexible. If a tram breaks down, the line is blocked until it is fixed. If we had electric buses and one breaks down the others could just go around.

Whichever way the light rail ends up going (by the standards set by stage one) the traffic chaos around Commonwealth Avenue and the Parliamentary Triangle is going to last many years. 

Even if they build a bridge down the middle of the Commonwealth Avenue bridge it will take out parts of the current bridges during construction. 

It is a long way around to avoid the chaos, so much for cutting down on pollution. I also object to the possibility of cutting down 100-year-old trees on Commonwealth Avenue if the tram goes that way.

The writer states that the end of an era of the private car is coming. Who are they kidding? The writer must be living in a dream world.

Vi Evans, MacGregor

Vale Cedric Bryant 

THANK you “CityNews” for two heartfelt insights into Cedric Bryant’s life and the significant contribution he made to Canberrans’ gardening hopes and pursuits (“A fond farewell to our beloved Cedric Bryant”, CN October 14). 

Tomato seedlings can be planted in October now with far less risk, thanks to increased urban heating and climate change, but the rest of Cedric’s advice will no doubt be kept in mind by many as they tend their garden plots and pots across this city for years to come.

Sue Dyer, Downer 

MY condolences, I know “CityNews” has lost a dear columnist and friend in Cedric Bryant. I read his column for years and visited his garden, and chatted to him when establishing mine.

Anna Prosser OAM, via email

Let’s get the bush capital back

WITH the prospect in sight of a post-covid future, let’s adopt a positive approach to a better world, if only locally. 

Leaving aside any Commonwealth financial expenditure, why can’t the tram build up our health, education and social welfare sectors (these will provide plenty of construction jobs), encourage small business and send our rapacious big developers to Sydney’s crowded metropolis where they belong.

Allow Canberra to become The Bush Capital again – there’s still time – where all ages can live in comfort free from the “progressive” mania of would-be capitalists and mistake-prone bureaucrats.

Greg Cornwell, Yarralumla

How lucky we are to be in Australia

IT’S an interesting time when we see people under an unusual situation.

The coronavirus can bring out the best in us and it’s a good time to realise how lucky we are to be residing in Australia.

If we were in Kabul, Syria and many other parts of the world, we could have a good reason to complain and whinge.

Does not our affluent society, generous system and generally stable governments give us reason to be positive?

Please stop complaining about this situation, it was thrust upon us, and make the best of it.

Phillip Frankcombe, O’Connor

Anyone still vacillating on vaccination?

AS reported recently, epidemiologist Prof Raywat Deonandan, of University of Western Ontario, has been calling for mandatory COVID-19 vaccination. 

When asked by a student journalist what he would say to the 20 per cent  or so of polled Ottawa students who complained that the campus’ vaccine requirements are an infringement of the right to free movement his response was: “We already infringe on your movements. You can’t cross the border without a passport. You can’t drive a car without a licence.You can’t ride a bus without a pass. You can’t cross the bloody street unless the light is green.You can’t enter a nightclub unless your ID says you’re over 18. You can’t enter private property… and the university is private property… unless the owners give you permission.

“Moreover, you can’t inject heroin into your veins because that’s against the public good. You can’t drive your car as fast as you want because that’s against the public good. You can’t defecate on the sidewalk because that’s against the public good. And you can’t come to campus without being vaccinated because that’s against the public good.

“A free society is not an anarchic society. If you don’t want to be vaccinated you have the freedom not to come to campus.”

Anyone still vacillating on vaccination? Make sure you get the one without the microchips

Paul Crowhurst, Hawker

More questions for Shane

SORRY to appear troublesome but, surely the Ngunnawals are the indigenous people of this region and its first inhabitants, and general opinion is they are and will always be. 

Your letter (CN September 1) in the capacity of Nyamudy-Ngambri elder, that during a national live streamed Aboriginal conference about the Australian War Memorial’s half-billion-dollar extension plans, the National Capital Authority CEO and the AWM director could not answer your request to show you the “bill of sale” to the Crown for the War Memorial site from your Ngambri ancestors, who you allege are the continuing Allodial Title Holders of the memorial site. 

Maybe this explains their awkwardness and confusion: the neighbouring First Nation people are the Gundungurra to the north, the Ngarigo to the south, the Yuin on the coast and the Wiradjuri inland, Seems none of them are in the site title/ownership loop.

History suggests that people normally moved in small family groups but there were, on occasion, big gatherings of a thousand or more people at a time, coming together to make use of resources which were seasonally abundant (most famously the Bogong moth and the Yam Daisy). Important ceremonies were held, art was painted in rock shelters, marriages were arranged, goods were traded, important news was shared and old friends met again.

In summer, people visited the high country where the Bogong moth, in millions or billions, could be found hiding in rocky crevices to survive the warmer weather. The moths were rich in stored fats and oils and were enthusiastically eaten (some say the taste resembles peanut butter). Indigenous people have been living here for at least 20,000 years, perhaps from the time when the extreme cold of the last Ice Age eased. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle continued to be practised into the early 19th century, until the arrival of Europeans with their sheep flocks and cattle herds. The arrival of introduced diseases, such as smallpox and measles, quickly affected Aboriginal numbers.

Introduced animals with hard hooves and big appetites rapidly reduced the abundance of plants such as Yam Daisies, damaged water holes and creeks, and the essential food resources there. Graziers may also have restricted Aboriginal movement, and movement was essential in this region. 

Despite this, thousands of people continued to gather in the Snowy Mountains in the Bogong season and, in 1826, some 1000 people gathered at Lake George to protest the behaviour of shepherds.

Aboriginal people adapted to the arrival of Europeans by taking jobs as stockmen and proved their knowledge and skill could be applied to introduced stock. 

However, government policies and the pressures of this new occupation created severe social pressures on the Ngunnawal community and neighbouring indigenous peoples.

The Ngunnawals have always remained in the area, and in recent years they have become more visible in the general community, and increasingly involved in affairs at the local and national level and, I feel, sit towards the top of the totem pole when it comes to title/ownership, so I ask was your recent claim made in isolation of the people of the Ngunnawal Nation?

John Lawrence via email





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2 Responses to Anonymous transport argument is ‘idiotic tosh’

Exhausted Urbanite says: October 19, 2021 at 9:25 pm

Richard Johnson observes that retired public servants in Canberra “have the time to contribute to our local resident groups, with benefits to the whole community”.

Give me a break. These ‘resident groups’ spend most of their time resisting any and all development in Canberra, at incredible cost to the broader community and particularly the young, who the NIMBYs seem determined to price out of the housing market.

On behalf of the rest of us, I beg you to take up golf instead.

Jim says: October 21, 2021 at 9:28 am

“As a personal disclaimer, I am a retired senior executive of ACTPLA and maintain an active interest in planning matters. I live in an apartment in the inner south, I use public transport quite often (or did pre-covid) and drive an electric car. I also happen to value the beautiful, established streetscapes of the inner south and do not wish to see them trashed through mindless “urban renewal” when there are plenty of other and more appropriate opportunities for increasing densities.”

The ‘disclaimer’ says it all. All good for development, as long as it doesn’t impact on me. Nothing but desperate to protect his patch of the city from any of that ‘pleb’ like development happening elsewhere.

There is a word for that isn’t there…. oh thats right. A NIMBY.


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